History of the United States National Security Council 1953–1961

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This article is about the history of the United States National Security Council during the Eisenhower Administration, 1953-1961.

Under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the National Security Council system evolved into the principal arm of the President in formulating and executing policy on military, international, and internal security affairs. Where Truman was uncomfortable with the NSC system and only made regular use of it under the pressure of the Korean War, Eisenhower embraced the NSC concept and created a structured system of integrated policy review. Eisenhower had a penchant for careful staff work, and believed that effective planning involved a creative process of discussion and debate among advisers compelled to work toward consensus recommendations.

The genesis of the new NSC system was a report prepared for the President in March 1953 by Robert Cutler, who became the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs. Cutler proposed a systematic flow of recommendation, decision, and implementation that he later described as the "policy hill" process. At the bottom of the hill, concerned agencies such as State and Defense produced draft policy recommendations on specific topics and worked for consensus at the agency level. These draft NSC papers went up the hill through the Planning Board, created to review and refine the recommendations before passing them on for full NSC consideration. The NSC Planning Board met on Tuesday and Friday afternoons and was composed of officials at the Assistant Secretary level from the agencies with permanent or standing representation on the Council, as well as advisers from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Central Intelligence Agency. Hundreds of hours were spent by the Board reviewing and reconstructing proposed papers for the NSC. Cutler resigned in 1958 in exhaustion. The top of the foreign policy-making hill was the NSC itself, chaired by the President, which met regularly on Thursday mornings.

The Council consisted of the five statutory members: the President, Vice President, Secretaries of State and Defense, and Director of the Office of Defense Mobilization. Depending on the subject under discussion, as many as a score of other senior Cabinet members and advisers, including the Secretary of the Treasury, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Director of Central Intelligence, attended and participated. The agenda included regular briefings by the Director of Central Intelligence on worldwide developments affecting U.S. security, and consideration of the policy papers advanced by the Planning Board. The upshot of the discussions were recommendations to the President in the form of NSC Actions. The President, who participated in the discussion, normally endorsed the NSC Action, and the decision went down the hill for implementation to the Operations Coordinating Board.

President Eisenhower created the Operations Coordinating Board (OCB) to follow up on all NSC decisions. The OCB met regularly on Wednesday afternoons at the Department of State, and was composed of the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Directors of the CIA, the United States Information Agency, and ICA, and the Special Assistants to the President for National Security Affairs and Security Operations Coordination. The OCB was the coordinating and implementing arm of the NSC for all aspects of the implementation of national security policy. NSC action papers were assigned to a team from the OCB for follow-up. More than 40 interagency working groups were established with experts for various countries and subjects. This 24-person staff of the OCB supported these working groups in which officials from various agencies met each other for the first time.

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